“Knives Out” is the latest film from writer and director Rian Johnson (“Looper,” “Star Wars: Episode VIII-The Last Jedi”). As a modern take on the mystery genre, this film proves to be a fantastic homage to classics from a bygone era and a darkly humorous contemporary murder mystery on its own merit.
The story centers around mystery writer and knife magnate Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who is found dead under vague circumstances shortly after his 85th birthday. This leads to a detective named Benoit Blanc (a delightfully Southern-fried turn from Daniel Craig) investigating the true cause of Harlan’s death among a group of relatives and associates that were potentially after Harlan and his $60 million fortune. Over the course of 130 minutes, the story has many twists and turns that will keep you guessing from the first shot to the final frame in this homage to the classic “whodunit” mystery thrillers of yesteryear.
Filming with much of the same crew he used on his previous work, Johnson masterfully crafts a setting where everything; no matter how insignificant it might seem at first, will have a purpose in the narrative later on. Blanc’s introduction to the story is a great example of this: along with editor Bob Duscay and ace cinematographer Steve Yedlin, Johnson uses the composition of each shot masterfully to suit the story; and you’re rewarded if you’re an observant viewer. On a $40 million budget, Johnson manages to add another excellent entry to an already impressive filmography.
The cast that’s assembled for this film is absolutely fantastic, playing off each other and their usual types in unique ways. Chris Evans playing the egotistical grandson Ransom is a riot, contrasting his usual “nice guy” persona popularized by his role as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a conniving and unfriendly demeanor. Michael Shannon stands out as Harlan’s son Walter, a beneficiary who had a falling out over Harlan’s reluctance to allow his books to be adapted into other media. Both experienced players such as Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis play wonderfully off up-and-comers such as Lakeith Stanfeld (“Get Out,” FX’s “Atlanta”) and Katherine Langford (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”). Everyone from Harlan’s nursemaid (Ana de Armas) to a laid-back online influencer (Toni Collette) plays a part in this mystery that’s easily one of the best films of the decade. Johnson can definitely be described with many words as a filmmaker, but “uncreative” certainly is not one of them.
With widespread critical and audience acclaim, “Knives Out” is easily one of the best films of the year 2019 and the decade. It’s highly recommended as another genre has been given new life under Johnson’s masterful direction.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Review by Steven Pryor
At A Glance:
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfeld, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford and Christopher Plummer
Written and Directed by: Rian Johnson